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Four steps to building leaders

Is your church full of unused treasure?

When a 94-year-old widow died in her home in Chicago, the administrator of her estate found an astonishing collection of things. She was known as a collector of antiques. There was a 50-year-old collection of chinaware, paintings, and unopened trunks. Twenty rooms were packed with rare and expensive furnishings. A fortune in diamonds was found in the false bottom of an old trunk. A desk contained 5,000 dollars in cash, as well as many uncashed checks and money orders. What would you have done with such a vast fortune? Do you think the rich woman knew what life was all about?

Like this eccentric lady, we, too, are connoisseurs of valuables that often we fail to use properly. These are gifts God has placed in our church in the lives of people----ministry gifts we leave undiscovered or undeveloped.

We who are leaders must help people become what God designed them to be. One of our primary roles is to build other leaders. We can do it by following four steps: (1) Understand God's process for building leaders; (2) Cultivate an environment that builds leaders; (3) Identify persons' potential to be leaders; and (4) Develop a strategy for building leaders.

1. Understand God's Process for Building Leaders

God uses a process to develop leaders. Any leader that God uses in any great way has first gone through a process of preparation. The degree to which a potential leader responds appropriately to God's process of preparation will determine his effectiveness. Throughout Scripture God prepared the leaders He used to accomplish His purposes. For each one He provided a uniquely designed process, based upon personal characteristics and the task God had for him to fulfill. God's process begins with preparation.

We can illustrate the preparation process with the laws of nature. Ail of nature shows how one season prepares for the next: winter to spring, spring to summer, summer to fall, and finally fall to winter. All creatures prepare for their next phase of life. The farmer prepares the ground to plant the seed. The seed grows and then is harvested. Preparation is a natural, vital part of God's plan.

The preparation of leaders is the process of helping persons be ready for service, or getting them ready for some occasion, test, or duty. To prepare persons means to train them for specific tasks, to educate, to establish a foundation, to develop character and skills, and to cultivate for the reproduction of character and skills.

God's law of preparation can be pictured as six "seasons" He uses to develop leaders. We can call these seasons: Foundation Building, Purpose Discovery, Character Development, Vision Calling, Mission Development, and Life Fulfillment.

Foundation Building
In this season God establishes the foundation for a person's life. He works through the environment, family, culture, and experiences. The primary objective is for the potential leader to learn to respond in a positive way to the uncontrollable issues of life, trusting God.

Purpose Discovery
In this season a potential leader discovers that life's true purpose is found only in and through a right relationship with Christ. With this awareness the person, through repentance, turns life over to Him. This is the beginning of consciously participating in God's plan of preparation.

Character Development
In this season God develops the person's inner life of character and obedience. Through trials and tests the potential leader learns to recognize his God-given gifts. He begins to learn how to pray and hear from God. He becomes a true disciple. Discernment, understanding, and obedience are the primary objectives at this season.

Vision Calling
The person now begins to sense what God's specific purpose or calling is for his life. He begins to experiment with various ministry opportunities gaining fuller understanding of his spiritual gifts. During this season God is working in the developing leader through ministry and relational experiences, positive and negative, within the body of Christ. Ministry vision is the primary objective. Also, God wants the person to learn that we minister out of what we are as well as what we do.

Ministry Growth
In this season God begins to work through the person in a role of leadership. Having discovered his ministry gifts, he finds a great sense of fulfillment in using them. In learning what to do and what not to do, in keeping with God's unique gifts and design for his life, he finds increased effectiveness in ministry. The primary objective is to learn to respond to the experiences God allows and deepen his communion with God. This becomes the base for lasting and effective ministry.

Life Fulfillment
In this season God moves the maturing leader into a role that matches his gifts, calling, and experiences. Vision calling and ministry growth converge to maximize ministry effectiveness. Many leaders never experience this season of life fulfillment. The major objectives here are to trust, rest, and watch. Maturing leaders must respond obediently and appropriately as God works to maximize all the gifts, skills, and experiences of their lives (Clinton, J . Robert. The Making of a Leader. Colorado Springs, Colo.: NavPress, 1988, pp. 43-47).

The leader's life and ministry are tested at every season. His response to the experiences, trials, and training that God provides determines his effectiveness. Some persons never fully develop as leaders. Some may do well in the season of purpose discovery but fail in ministry growth. King Saul is an example of one who started with a strong sense of God's calling and anointing upon his life only to fail later in his life. Mature leaders have serious responsibilities in leadership building.

If we are to succeed in building leaders, we must understand the seasons of preparation in our own lives as well as the lives of others. We must continue to respond to God's working in our lives if we are going to grow winners through our lives. It is impossible to build leaders beyond the season where we are.

2. Cultivate an Environment That Builds Leaders

A healthy environment encourages people to become their best. It encourages them to experiment and grow in their strengths and abilities. A church that cultivates this kind of environment will have committed people who are loyal to the church. We cultivate this environment in several ways.

First, a leader must model honesty, genuineness, openness to influence, commitment to the success of others, willingness to acknowledge contributions to problems, personal accountability, teamwork, and trust. The leader should provide a captivating vision that challenges and motivates. He should also provide purpose, direction, and a clear focus of the strengths of the organization. Not only must a leader model these behaviors, but he must train others to adopt them.

Second, an environment that develops leaders maintains strong values. Mature leaders must hold strong values personally to build other leaders. These values include the convictions that every Christian is called to minister and that all people are walking bundles of strength. Weaknesses are simply insufficiently developed strengths. Mature leaders believe that everyone has a deep need to feel significant and unique, that people minister out of who they are as well as what they do. Churches that value the development of persons into leaders place more emphasis on people than on buildings or budgets. They spend money and time to develop people. They place a priority on producing rather than position and provide opportunities for people to grow. They develop vision, share it, live by it, and promote people in the church to greater levels of leadership.

Third, a healthy environment builds leaders through recognition. Mature leaders give recognition to individuals and teams that contribute to the success of the church. They recognize all who contribute----those who create and those who support day-to-day ministry requirements. Creating ministry evaluations based on innovation, quality, creativity, and change provides a basis for rewards. Creating procedures and programs that build and enhance a high level of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual energy is one of the greatest ways to reward those who serve. Reward active behavior, learners as well as knowers, a commitment to continuous learning, and new dimensions of service. Expect total integrity and ensure that all recognition is related to positive performance. Rewarding people for becoming and doing what the church values results in a healthy people-building culture.

Fourth, we cultivate a healthy environment through positive leadership practices. Mature leaders must reinforce the church's standards of ethical, effective practices. They must be clear about their expectations. This starts with a commitment to God, people, service, innovation, and quality. Such commitment is liberating and enriching to everyone. Essential leadership practices include:

  1. Personal management skills---- developing and managing spiritual, emotional, physical, and personal areas of life.
  2. Interpersonal skills----relating and interacting with people in positive, influential ways.
  3. Motivational leadership skills---- positively influencing others through capturing and communicating the vision and equipping others. It's the ability to see what ought to be, the wisdom to know how to bring it to pass, and the faith to see it through.
  4. Personnel equipping skills---- developing a team by building people and helping them to develop skills that will benefit them and the organization.
  5. Organizational skills----organizing people to work efficiently and effectively through the development and maintenance of strategy and structure.

Fifth, the church that cultivates communication builds leaders. It is necessary to regularly communicate our vision, mission, and goals, and to be clear about performance expectations. People must know what we expect of them and receive timely, honest feedback. Communicate how and what you are learning as a builder of other leaders. This inspires others to grow. People follow learners. Foster the belief that "we can accomplish anything: the difficult we do immediately, the impossible takes a little longer." Continually translate essential values into action to reinforce them.

Sixth, an environment that builds leaders empowers people. Mature leaders will increase the authority and responsibility of those who continue to grow and develop. By actively pushing responsibility, trust, and recognition into the organization, we harness and release the capabilities of our people. We develop an empowering environment when we:

  1. Define and communicate responsibilities that challenge people. Release them to act meaningfully.
  2. Give them authority equal to the responsibility. The whole organization becomes more effective when we give volunteers greater freedom and authority.
  3. Establish standards for excellence. People tend to perform to our level of expectation. Expect great things.
  4. Train them in skills necessary to meet the standards.
  5. Give them the knowledge and information to succeed. The easiest way to strengthen people is to share authority and information with them.
  6. Provide appropriate, positive feedback on performance.
  7. Recognize and reward efforts and achievements. Catch people doing things well.
  8. Trust them by allowing them to participate in decision making.
  9. Give them permission to fail. Releasing people to make mistakes builds the church more than doing things yourself and not making mistakes.
  10. Treat them with dignity and respect. Make people feel capable and significant to the process and vitally involved in its accomplishments.

3. Recognize leadership potential, and guide potential leaders in self evaluation.

Most persons have the potential to be leaders, and can develop individual styles of leadership. However, some characteristics are essential for all. Leadership builders must know (1 ) what personality traits to encourage and (2) how to help each person maximize the potential and find a suitable place of ministry.

Several essential leadership characteristics are expressed in various implications of the following terms. The key word among leadership characteristics is FAITHFUL:

Faithful. Dependable, reliable. Mature leaders demonstrate a determination to be thorough and consistent in their work.

Available. Willing, accessible. They are ready to do what is required or needed.

Initiating. Responsible, leading. They take risks and assume responsibility for themselves and the tasks at hand.

Teachable. Receptive, growing. They have a hunger to learn about life and develop their potential.

Honest. Truthful, genuine. They demonstrate integrity and congruency in word and deed.

Flexible. Adaptable, resourceful. They adjust to situations with ease and a right attitude.

Unselfish. Generous, serving. They have a servant's heart, placing the interests of the whole above their own.

Loyal. Trustworthy, committed. They demonstrate true character and submit to the group, their leaders, and their peers.

People who possess these characteristics are most likely to become leaders. No one develops all these qualities automatically. Most are learned through conscious effort. Leader builders must determine the strengths and weaknesses of persons we mentor. and work appropriately with each. Some successful leader builders offer four suggestions for helping a person develop his (or her) potential in Christian leadership.

First, identify his passion. Passion is an intense God-given desire to give ourselves to a cause, vision, idea, person, or ministry for an extended time. A few questions can help you determine his passion. What is the burning desire in his heart? What brings the greatest sense of fulfillment? What does he really like to do? What does he do well? What does he dream about doing that could make a difference in the world?

Second, help him analyze and describe his temperament/behavioral style. Such self-examination will help him understand others and himself. There are many resources to help you do this, such as Understanding How Others Misunderstand You Workbook (Voges and Braund, Chicago: Moody Press, 1990) or The Delicate Art of Dancing with Porcupines: Learning to Appreciate the Finer Points of Others (Phillips, Bob, Ventura, Calif.: Regal Publishing, 1989).

Third, help him to identify his ministry gifts. Encourage him to pray, study spiritual gifts in the Bible (Romans 12;1 Corinthians 12), identify personal desires, use a spiritual gifts inventory, experiment with ministries, look for confirmation from other people, and evaluate where he gets the best results in ministry. One available resource is the Wagner-Modified Houts Questionnaire (Logan, Robert E., and Janet, Spiritual Gifts Implementation: Moving from Gifts Discovery to Ministry, Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Evangelistic Association, 1986). Many other gift assessments are also available.

Fourth, help him to identify his skill strengths. People tend to relate best with their hands (doing), their hearts (feeling/sensing), or their heads (thinking). A person's natural skill strengths tend to lie in one of these areas and can be identified best through experiences. Skill strengths tend to focus on specific kinds of ministry and service opportunities. Resources that can help the church develop a ministry gifts discovery and placement strategy include the Spiritual Gifts Implementation mentioned earlier, Mobilizing Spiritual Gifts Series Leader's Kit (Ford, Paul, and Pat Springle, Pasadena, Calif.: Fuller Evangelical Association, 1993), or Team Ministry Manual (Forest, Va.: Church Growth Institute, 1991).

4. Develop a strategy for building leaders.

After you have identified persons with leadership potential, and helped them to recognize personal characteristics, proceed with a specific strategy. Your best guidelines are found in classic principles of leadership training.

  1. Focus your training on both character and conduct.
  2. Adapt your style and methods of equipping to the characteristics, circumstances, and needs of the apprentices.
  3. Teach people to master the basics before attempting to develop advanced skills.
  4. Encourage people often during early stages of training.
  5. Give them adequate support and guidance until they have mastered the skills and can function independently.
  6. To use your time efficiently, focus on training persons who are personally committed.
  7. Motivate with meaningful relationships, recognition, and rewards.
  8. Realize that training is most effective when it includes both teaching and practice.
  9. Affirm the value of persons, independent of their performance level.
Some Types of Training Processes

Workshops and lab experiences. These are one-time events that focus on developing specific skills, techniques, and awareness. A skilled trainer or teacher conducts the workshop and combines classroom experiences with opportunities to practice the skills being taught.

Training courses. These often require regular commitment and participation. They focus on the communication of information, but they also provide opportunities for practical experience. Training courses are most effective when they replicate the setting in which the apprentices will function in ministry. They often provide the participants opportunities to practice what they've learned in their places of ministry.

Conference or retreat experiences. These provide concentrated training to develop skills or communicate ideas in a relational setting. This setting provides a great opportunity for team building, inspiration, and motivation.

Existing groups and committees provide settings for apprenticeship training. Developing leaders can experience group dynamics and observe leadership skills. Apprenticeship training effectively builds potential leaders because it provides real-life situations in a relational setting. The leader serves as a mentor and a model. Learning is enhanced for the apprentice in the planning and evaluation times with the leader/mentor who discusses the process of identifying individual and group needs, explains behaviors, addresses questions, and provides leadership opportunities. The strength of apprentice training depends upon the ability of the mentor/leader. He must be a good model. He must know how to challenge the trainees to grow, and to teach at teachable moments.

Training is the key to unlocking the potential of people. Since people are the greatest resource to any organization, training them is the key to unleashing the potential of the organization. Here are some more suggestions to help you build leaders:

Fortify the basics----everyone needs to know the fundamentals of the game plan and the plays. Organizations often fail because they forget to reinforce the basics. Vince Lombardi repeatedly held a football up in front of his players and exclaimed, "Gentlemen, this is a football." He knew the value of reviewing the basics with his team.

Use teachable moments. Training is more than imparting knowledge; it's the process of connecting theory and practice. You've not trained until you've helped potential leaders develop their skills and enhance their ability to serve others.

Link training to personal benefits. People are more motivated to learn if the learning will benefit them. Any training plan needs to answer three questions for the trainee: How will I benefit from this training? How will I increase my competence? How is this training relevant to my job, life, and ministry?

Provide on-the-job training. Provide many opportunities for the trainees to practice and develop in their areas of ministry. A basketball coach reviews the plays on paper with the players, but they spend countless hours running the plays on the court. There is no substitute for hands-on experience. This will increase the trainee's confidence and competence to perform when he faces issues not addressed in his training. These moments are great opportunities for real training. It increases their desire to learn.

Use short training sessions. Take advantage of brief, but potent opportunities for training. These occur in formal and informal settings. A good formula to use is Knowledge + Study + Practice = Competence/Quality.

Train individuals not the crowd. Each individual has a different personality, learning style, and rate of learning. If you focus on training the individual, you can use different approaches and be sensitive to needs, temperaments, and learning styles.

An ancient Persian legend tells of a wealthy man, Al Haffed, who owned a large farm. One evening a visitor told him fabulous tales about diamonds found in other parts of the world that could bring him great wealth. The vision of this wealth made him feel poor by comparison, so he sold his prosperous farm and set out to find these treasures. But the search was fruitless.

Finally, penniless and in despair, he committed suicide by jumping into the sea. Meanwhile, the man who had purchased his farm noticed the glint of an unusual stone in a shallow stream. To his amazement, it was a huge diamond. Later while working in his garden, he uncovered more valuable gems. Poor Al Haffed had spent his life traveling to distant lands seeking jewels when on his farm were the precious stones his heart desired.

There are diamonds in the people that God has entrusted to our care. Recognizing potential and building with it to produce leaders is a diamond-finding experience.


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